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Drones used to get medical supplies in roadless areas

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Eight-propeller Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can transport small items weighing up to 4 1/2 pounds like medical supplies about a little over six miles in good weather, saving lives before modern roads can be built in remote areas.

Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet that transports matter with its Menlo Park headquarters in Palo Alto, California said, "Somehow the world caught on to this idea of using a technology [drones], which has a really bad reputation, for a really good cause and try to give the developing world not an example of following what the west has done but to figure out that there is a better way – to do for transportation what we did for communications."

He got the idea after Domino Pizza's publicity drone delivery of pizzas in the summer of 2013. He thought a network of UAVs could deliver medical supplies to parts of the developing world inaccessible by road where trucks get stuck in mud.

One billion people in the world do not have year-round road access. In sub-Saharan Africa, 85 percent of roads are cut off during the rainy season and supplies can not be transported.

The three parts of the delivery systems are the UAVs, landing stations for packages to be dropped off and transferred, and software controlling the vehicle routes so there are no collisions. Networks of several drones would be run for about 10 minutes each since battery life is short.

The drone cost $9,969 each; ground stations $4,985 each; $149,535 would buy a complete network of five ground stations, 10 UAVs, setup and training.

Test runs have been made in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A pilot is scheduled for later in 2014 for Maseru, a district of Lesotho where there is a serious AIDS epidemic and a case study was done. There are 47 clinics collecting blood samples and 6 labs analyzing them. The sites are put on a map to see if reliable transportation exists for any of them first to move the laboratory sample in the countryside.

First customers will be aid agencies, pharmaceutical and logistics organizations, but not the military. It is hoped that villages will own the drones and base stations and do their own transporting.

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